March 21, 2004

Safer With Who Out Of Power?

While watching 60 minutes tonight, all I could do was stare at the screen with my jaw wide open. Bush threw a wrench in the works of an active anti-terrorist program and pursued anti-terror intelligence like a true-believer conducts a psychic investigation. Conclusions before facts; look for corroborating evidence; keep pounding.

There is no way to tell whether 9/11 could have been averted. If I’d have to guess, I’d guess no, but that’s partly because i don’t want to lean too heavily on the incompetence of our president or appear to take blame away from the terrorists themselves. But, as Clarke puts it, “There’s plenty of blame to go around.”

Let’s look at what he said tonight that shocked me the most.

First, let me explain who Richard Clarke is. He worked with Reagan to shape anti-terror policies and later worked with the first President Bush. He was kept by the Clinton administration to become terrorism czar for the nation. Then again he worked for another President Bush when GWB took the White House. Hired by a Republican president, worked for 3 GOP heads of state and Clinton. Ok, onward.

  1. After 9/11, Bush took Richard Clarke aside to ask him for a report on Iraq and possible links to al Qaeda. Clarke describes his manner as “intimidating” on his insistence that this connection should be explored. Trouble is, it had been explored for years and there was no evidence. Bush was informed of this.
    1. There had been no Iraqi terrorism since the Bush I assassination attempt when they blew up Iraqi intelligence as a warning—a warning which killed Iraqi terrorism in its tracks.
    2. Richard Clark agreed to produce yet another investigation which turned up no linking evidence, the report was returned with the message “Wrong Answer.” The efforts of years of intelligence had produced the wrong answer—no link to support what the Bush administration wanted to do. (The actual words on the memo, it turns out, were about reworking and resubmitting the report. It was a report based on years of research that had turned up nothing.)
  2. Immediately following 9/11, Rumsfeld was suggesting we bomb Iraq. The CIA, FBI and Clarke were telling him that al Qaeda was in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld told them “Afghanistan doesn’t have any good targets. Iraq has good targets.”
  3. Clarke describes that a lot of effort went into stopping what he calls “the al Qaeda attack” during the Clinton years.
    1. There were meetings every other day, or every few days with the president. They thwarted attacks such as a plot to blow up LAX. He had proposed a plan to Clinton to kill Osama, but that plan was turned down.
    2. By contrast, when Bush took office, the meetings with the president stopped. Requests for meetings went unanswered. Warnings went unanswered. Information stopped. Information about the known al Qaeda cells didn’t make it to Clarke. He finally got one meeting before 9/11 on the 4th of September, 2001. He presented the plan to kill Osama, but was rebuffed again. We all know what followed.

What strikes me the most is how when Bush took office, they really did put terrorism on the back burner. This shouldn’t surprise us at all, since they gave al Qaeda a breather during the post 9/11 war on terror by waging a separate war on Iraq. The administration’s response is just to say that the suggestion Bush was not hard-hitting on the Taliban and Afghanistan is absurd. It completely glosses over the accusations.

Stephen Hadley, Bush’s National Security Counsel, is unconvincing in his answer to Clarke’s charges. At times, Hadley oversteps the facts. He claims there is no proof of any encounter between Clarke and the president regarding an Iraq report, then stumbles as Lesley Stahl mentions they have independent corroboration of the encounter, including one witness to it. Later, when Hadley intimates that Clarke told him he was happy with Bush’s handling of terrorism when he left his job, Stahl asks him if that’s what Clarke told him. He had to back up again and say it is what he “understood.”

Al Qaeda attacks were thwarted during the Clinton administration. That’s not to say Clinton was the end all and be all of anti-terror. But he had a terrorism czar who was included in cabinet-level meetings—frequently. For whatever reason he was reduced in involvement and his warnings were ignored. After 9/11 he was reduced to the job of fetching information to link Saddam and al Qaeda. As Bush said, “You can’t distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.”

This is huge.

“Are we safer with Saddam out of power?” is yesterday’s question.

Today’s question is “Are we safer with Bush out of power.”

[New Zealand Herald]

[Addendum: Watch the fun as the conservative attack dogs work to discredit Clarke. This fellow came across as honest, credible, and sincerely concerned about the American people. What more do you want in a terrorism czar? In fact, he resembled an older Jack Bristow from Alias. A no-nonsense guy. Regardless, the attacks are, no doubt, already forming.]

Posted by James at March 21, 2004 10:46 PM
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Frightening. If that's true Bush is a simple minded asshole.

Posted by: Mike at March 21, 2004 11:05 PM

Oh no! It can't be true! That Clarke guy is just stirring things up so he can make money for his book! Bush can do no wrong! He's a rocket scientist! He's a saint! He's working on the cure for cancer! He pees gold nuggets and has no anus!

Yes it's huge. Yes it's awful, but Clarke did nothing tonight but confirm what we had suspected all along. Everyone I knew was mystified when the war focus suddenly changed to Iraq, then the WMD thing evaporated, the nuclear material thing evaporated, the al-Qaeda link evaporated and all we were left with was the Bushies saying "But Saddam is out of power!" Come on, admit it, you pretty much knew then that the Bushies manipulated us into a war on false pretenses.

Even the Bush supporters know it. But they won't admit it. This Clarke thing, I'll be surprised if it convinces *one* Bush supporter that maybe Bush is bad for America. They'll believe whatever spin Rove puts on it and that will be that.

I mean jeeze, look at our fiscal situation. After all of Bush's insisting that we could afford these clearly unaffordable tax cuts, Greenspan comes out and says Social Security is not likely to survive. Christ. How could anyone look at that and say "Bush--he's done right by us?"

As long as Bush isn't killing babies on primetime TV, he's okay with the Bush supporters.

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 22, 2004 2:06 AM

BTW if I sound angry, it's because I'm angry. Forgive me while impotently shake my little fists.

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 22, 2004 2:08 AM

Terrific post, James. Thanks.

No, it will not convince the true believers. You don't have to convince the true believers. By definition you can't chaneg them and it doesn't matter. Elections are won in this country by convincing the folks in the middle. This will help a lot - especially since we are dealing here with another administration critic whose Republican credentials are unquestionable.

More importantly, it begins to raise the question about what Bush did or didn't do about terrorism before 9/11 and that's one the press has largely stayed away from. He received - or should have, if he read anything - an incredible report in late July that warned of the 9/11 attack. The fact that this report was made has found its way into the press - but to date, no one has asked him what he did with the warning. What actions did he take, what preparations did he make.

The same case that many people make against FDR - that he ignored warnings because he knew an attack by Japan would be the only thing that would get us into the war FDR thought we should join - this same case could be made on Bush. He knew we "should" attack Saddam Hussein and it's obvious a terrorist attack would be the key to getting the nation behind him to carry out this goal. Is he this cynical? I haven't a clue. I think Cheney and Rumsefeld are. They had been working towards this goal for years.

An yway -the evidence is there that the BUsh administration ignored clear warnings. Did they do it because they had tunnel vision about Iraq? Who knows. I don;t know what to believe about FDR and WWII any more and I doubt we'll ever get to the bottom of what went on in the Bush administration prior to 9/11. But there is strong evidence of criminal neglect and the public has only begun to explore that evidence.

It's a slow process - but people such as Clark are certainly chipping away at the Bush mythology. And once people start tinnking this way, the momentum will switch - if it hasn't already. Maybe it's good that the election is eight months away.

Will Clark be the dam breaker? I don't know. It's hard to figure how these things worked. Look at the National Guard story. It floated around for years and the mainstream press ignored it. 60 minutes may be enough in the face of the news moguls so they can't ignore this. I don't know.

Posted by: Greg Stone at March 22, 2004 3:38 AM

The Clarke story was on This Week and Hardball as well. Whether or not it will find its way into the Channel 6 Evening News is another question entirely.

Posted by: Julie at March 22, 2004 9:43 AM

This is kind of a tangent, but not really.

Did you catch "This American Life" on Sunday? WBUR and other public radio stations air this show produced by WBEZ in Chicago.

There was a segment on Zogby polls, and how people don't always have a good grip on the facts. One guy confused John Kerry and former Nebraska Bob Kerrey. John Kerry, he said, mowed down all those women and children in Viet Nam, so he shouldn't brag about his war record.


I encourage you to listen to the show:

Posted by: Patti at March 22, 2004 11:24 AM

Funny you should mention that because when Bush was first elected, many people confused him with a "compassionate conservative."

Posted by: James at March 22, 2004 11:46 AM

Ba dum dum!

You should have ended your post with "I'll be here all week. Try the chicken."

Posted by: Patti at March 22, 2004 12:22 PM

Please don't edit/delete my comments, Sir. *deferential bow*

Actually, you'll have no need to do either because I found them brilliant and opted out of doing my own analysis and simply linked to yours.

Posted by: Steve at March 22, 2004 1:26 PM

I think Bob Kerrey will make a fine president.

Posted by: JD Mays at March 22, 2004 2:13 PM


Hee, hee. :)

My comments guidelines are all bluster and few teeth. I put them in place after Google turned the spigot onto one of my posts. I'm keeping the bar low so that anyone can post because, doggoneit, a crazy post once in a while can make things fun. That 12 reasons post was a little too fun.

JD - they do have write-ins where you are, right?

Here's a link to Steve's blog with his take on this subject.

And Chuck's got his own take, and provides some links.

Posted by: James at March 22, 2004 2:59 PM

"As long as Bush isn't killing babies on primetime TV, he's okay with the Bush supporters."

I don't mean to sound trollish, but he has arguably been doing just that (if you think the administration has allowed and encouraged the sensationalism over the war with Iraq), and has been met with nothing but zealous cheers from the "kill 'em all" crowd. Even if he literally picked up a child and cut its throat on CNN, there would be plenty of fanatics ready to justify his actions, because it's 'all or nothing' with those people. Us or them. With us or against us. No shades of gray. It's pathetically small-minded and un-American, but don't try showing them why; they're pretty resistant to rational thinking.

Posted by: Scurvy at March 22, 2004 8:33 PM

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